Sissonville student excited for spelling bee trip
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Officially, Lauren Coccari wants to be a pharmacist.
That wasn't always the dream of the Sissonville teen.
"When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be a detective. Me and Grandma Mandy would solve mysteries and stuff," said Lauren, days before completing the eighth grade at Sissonville Middle School.
Although Lauren is excited to head to Washington, D.C., this week to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she's just as pumped to test out her espionage skills at the International Spy Museum.
"You have to find out information. Like, part of it was where they let us into this guy's office and we had to look through all of his documents and scan them," Lauren said, laughing as she remembered a visit to a role-playing exhibit at the museum last year.
"And then after that the lady said he was coming back and she was like, 'Get in the truck, get in the truck!' "
Lauren nailed "velocity" in March to win the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee and a berth in the national competition. She's the first Kanawha County student in 15 years to win the regional bee.
She doesn't see that as additional pressure, but she understands it's going to be a challenge to best the other 280 top spellers in the country.
"I'd still like to try and get far in the bee, but I'd also like to have fun," she said.
And there will be fun. The competitors will spend a full week in the nation's capital starting today, and plenty of activities are planned in addition to the bee.
The bee actually will be held right outside the Washington, D.C., beltway in the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. On Friday, with the competition over, they will split into groups for tours in the nation's capital.
Lauren's all-expense-paid trip is sponsored by the Gazette-Mail, the West Virginia Automobile & Truck Dealers Association and the College Foundation of West Virginia, or cfwv.com.
She also won a $2,500 college savings account from the state Treasurer's SMART529 program and several other prizes. She will collect some of those at the awards banquet in National Harbor on Friday evening.
The first rounds of the competition start with computer testing on Tuesday. Oral rounds begin on Wednesday and will be televised on ESPN3 from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
The semifinals will be broadcast on ESPN2 from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday, and the finals on ESPN from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday.
Lauren has done her best to prepare for the bee but like many other students has found the end of the school year a little hectic.
In the evenings if she has a few moments, she'll read through the blitz list -- a compilation of words to help prepare students for the challenge.
Her parents, grandmother and friends help and provide encouragement, Lauren said.
"My best friend Natalie, even before I was going to regionals, she told me to think like a winner," Lauren said. "And she just told me that yesterday, to think like a winner."
When Lauren won the regional bee, her school treated her like a winner.
When a sports team does well at Sissonville Middle School, it's a tradition for players to experience the walk of champions, said Principal Brian Eddy.
With Queen's "We are the Champions" and Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" blaring over the loudspeakers, the honored students walk along halls lined by their classmates.
Lauren and her dad, Gene, took the walk of champions. Afterward, Eddy and other administrators hosted a reception for them.
"She said, 'Dad, did you ever think I would be doing the walk of the champions?' " the principal said. "She was feeling good about herself."
Gene and Lauren's mother, Stephanie, are proud of their daughter's accomplishment. This will be her 20th spelling bee, and her dad said she can never be counted out when she steps to the microphone.
As if the competition weren't tough enough, there's a new component to the national bee this year. In the initial rounds, competitors also must demonstrate knowledge of word definitions.
Lauren initially said she wasn't nervous. Then she conceded she was a little nervous but mostly excited.
She would really like to make it past the computer test but admits the definition component will make things a little tougher.
"When it comes to spelling bees, you just have to take it as it comes," Lauren said.
Stephanie said her daughter never seems nervous. Both she and Gene said they're very proud of her. So is everyone at Sissonville Middle.
"Regardless of how she does, we're just proud of her," Principal Eddy said. "She's exceeded our expectations."